Interview of the Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal with the journalist of the German Newspaper Bild Julian Röpcke
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, your country has been affected by the coronavirus crisis as well and COVID-19 has claimed the lives of almost 30,000 citizens. Against this background, how important are good economic relations with Germany to you?
Intensive economic cooperation with Germany is of critical importance both during the coronavirus-inflicted crisis and in normal times, I hope we will go back to soon. Germany is our major trading partner in Europe and ranks among the TOP 4 investors in the Ukrainian economy. But the potential is much higher. The IV Ukrainian-German Economic Forum, we are opening today, aims to promote new contacts and open up new perspectives for the business in both countries.
So far, only just under 100,000 people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus in Ukraine. Even so, you reject the Sputnik V vaccine from your large neighbor Russia. Why?
Ukraine has been negotiating with all world-class vaccine producers. To date, preliminary contracts have been signed with six of them and three COVID-19 vaccines have already been approved in Ukraine, which are AstraZeneca, Pfizer-Biontech and Sinovac. We are expecting the first delivery from Pfizer-Biontech soon as part of the COVAX facility, in which Germany is one of the most important donors worldwide. As far as the Russian vaccine is concerned, in Ukraine, we do not actually see any possibility of using Sputnik V at the moment, and there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, this vaccine has not gone through all phases of clinical trials, and the second reason is that we obviously cannot use a vaccine from a country we are in a military conflict with.
The main point of dispute between Germany and Ukraine remains the Gazprom Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is currently under construction and is designed to transit Russian gas via Ukraine to Europe. Is there a chance of a compromise between Berlin and Kyiv?
The stance of Kyiv remains unchanged: It is primarily a political project that hasn’t served any commercial purpose from the start. The Ukrainian gas transit system is capable of transporting over 140 billion cubic meters of gas per year; in 2020, 55.8 billion cubic meters of Russian gas were transported through the pipelines to Europe. Commissioning of Nord Stream 2, should it come to that, would not only mean a loss of income of several billion euros per year for us. This project primarily violates the EU's energy security and creates economic conditions for the further financing of the aggressive action of the Russian leadership, especially against Ukraine. Ukraine therefore advocates the sanctions policy against the commissioning of the pipeline.
The Russian leadership claims you are planning a military campaign to return the Russian-occupied Donbas in eastern Ukraine. Is that true?
We strictly stand by the restoration of our territorial integrity, including the Crimea, but exclusively through a political and diplomatic way. First and foremost, we are talking about returning our citizens who are forced to live under the occupation. It's not just about part of our territory. Ukraine currently sees no other way of resolving this military conflict than through diplomatic negotiations, particularly in the Normandy format. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is making every effort to achieve that.
Ukraine has been recently criticized for banning pro-Russian television channels and websites. Is your Government engaged in attacking press freedom as Moscow claims?
In 2017 we were criticized for banning the Russian media, as if the Russian war waged against us had been forgotten. Now, and I have heard it at international meetings, the democratic world has arrived at a conclusion that this was the right decision. Despite the topic being rather sensitive, we are now seeing the same understanding on the part of our western partners in connection with the recent shutdown of pro-Russian media resources. Ukraine is a testing ground for Russian hybrid operations. Disinformation and propaganda play a key role here. It is therefore necessary to make a clear distinction between propaganda and freedom of the press in a hybrid war.
What would you recommend Germany in terms of dealing with Russian state media?
Moscow's goal is to destroy transatlantic unity, to split the EU and ultimately to create an atmosphere of tension in Western societies on a regular basis. Germany has felt this more than once. That's why there is no advice from me. Germany is a strong and independent country and knows how to oppose propaganda on both state and social levels.